A landslide that struck a community of gold prospectors in the southern Philippines has left at least 25 people dead and about 150 others missing, government officials say.
The landslip hit a remote mountain community of about 100 families near Pantukan town, on Mindanao island, at dawn on Thursday, Benito Ramos, the civil defence chief, told the AFP news agency.
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Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from Manila, said search and rescue operations have been halted due to heavy rain.
The rains were unleashed by a minor storm off Mindanao’s southeast coast that later dissipated, the state weather service said.
Pantukan and nearby Monkayo town have drawn thousands of gold prospectors for years, and the largely unregulated mining activities have made the mountainside unstable and caused a series of deadly accidents.
Fourteen people were killed in a landslide on a nearby section of a mountainside on April 22 last year on top of another landslide in 2009 that killed 26 people.
Acting on the advice of national government geologists, local officials ordered all Pantukan gold rush areas evacuated last year after the April landslide.
However, they said some people had returned, possibly joined by new migrants drawn by very high gold prices.
“We were there a year ago after the previous landslide and about two days after it hit people started to rebuild their homes on the same shaky grounds, saying they have nowhere else to go,” our correspondent said.
“The local and national government have said they have allocated a relocation site for them but the villagers are saying that where they are to be moved to, there is not livelihood for them.”
Twenty-five bodies were pulled from the debris within the first six hours, said chief superintendent Jaime Morente, the regional police chief.
Arturo Uy, the governor of Compostela Valley province that includes Pantukan, said more than 100 people are believed to be still buried under the collapsed mountainside.
Ramos, however, said the number of missing was an estimate based on figures from village officials.
Miners had been warned previously of the danger of landslides after one struck a nearby community of gold prospectors in April, said Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje.
“We have identified this area as highly susceptible to landslides,” he told ABS-CBN television in an interview.
“We had already told them even before the April incident happened that the top of the ridge is cracked, and it was just a matter of time” before another struck, Paje added.
“We had already ordered them out of the area in April and many did leave,” Uy told GMA television in a telephone interview.
“But the area is remote and the local government has difficulty monitoring the area.”
Ramos said two military helicopters were airlifting more rescuers to Pantukan from the southern port of Cagayan de Oro, one of two Mindanao cities hit hard by flash floods last month that killed more than 1,200 people.